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Employers Look to Fill Seasonal Jobs, Advocates Look to Protect Workers in US

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Toribio Jimenez lies on his bed in his basement bedroom of the home where he and 10 other people live in Nashville, Tenn, Sept. 3, 2009. Jimenez was given a job removing asbestos in the U.S. through the H2-B nonagricultural guest worker program. The job was not the job that was promised to him through the program, and after being fired, Jimenez said he now has no option but to work illegally so he can pay back the money he borrowed to make the trip to the U.S. VOA
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You may have noticed: Much of the recent anti-immigration rhetoric in Washington most loudly comes from factions on the political right: H1B, H2B, it’s all about protecting American jobs.

But every step of the way, progressive groups — while pro-immigrant — are just as critical of foreign worker visas. Federal regulations on the books, they argue, are inherently insufficient to protect visa holders from abuse, whether through unwarranted recruitment fees, misrepresentation of job requirements, fraud or intimidation.

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The issue plagues potential recruits, but also well-meaning businesses that can’t find enough Americans willing to take seasonal jobs. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts and other areas of the country whose economic models are centered on five-to-six-month tourist seasons, the work of H2B visa-holders becomes essential to business owners.

Tyler Hayes, vice president of Cape Cod Restaurants, says his seasonal businesses — including Flying Bride Restaurant, shown here in April — would suffer without H-2B workers. After 20 years in the business, he says the children of foreign workers have begun to work for them. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Employers worry, too

Tyler Hayes, vice president of Cape Cod Restaurants, says he is fortunate that his seasonal foreign workforce, mainly from Jamaica, has created a “family atmosphere” during his 20-year tenure with the company.

“Now, their children are coming in, working for us,” Hayes said.

But while Hayes can only point to the well-being of his own workforce, he acknowledges that at least in recent years, abuse of workers has not been inconceivable.

“There used to be these companies that would send out these big petitions,” Hayes recalled. “They bring in 100 or 200 people, get them in the country and then farm them out.”

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In response, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cracked down on abuse within the H2B system in 2015, both in order to prevent the exploitation of workers and to ensure U.S. workers’ awareness of available jobs.

Are regulations enough?

Elizabeth Mauldin, policy director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) — the Center for Migrant Rights — calls those protections basic, including the right to receive a contract before entering the U.S. and protection from being charged a recruitment fee.

But many aspects of those existing regulations, she argues, are difficult to ensure, absent greater transparency in the recruitment process.

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“It’s impossible to enforce a ban on charging workers fees,” Mauldin told VOA. “When workers are charged fees upfront, they are vulnerable to the same type of economic coercion across the board.” As a result, she notes, foreign workers become susceptible to wage theft and other abuses, regardless of their visa category.

Afraid to report

A 2013 report issued by CDM, whose findings were based on a survey and in-depth interviews with hundreds of H2B workers, found that 58 percent of respondents reported paying illegal recruitment fees, while 10 percent reported recruitment fraud — having paid a fee for a nonexistent job.

While there are mechanisms in place for foreign workers to report abuse, Mauldin argues that the disincentives are often too great.

“[Abusive employers] will say, at the end of the season, ‘If you pay those fees, then we will be more likely to recruit you in the future,’ or ‘If you don’t report these violations, then our recruiter will choose you again next year,’” Mauldin said.

Jane Nichols Bishop, who goes by the nickname “Mama Visa,” helps local companies secure annual H2B visas. “I like to joke and say we have more great white sharks than I have workers looking for a job on Cape Cod,” she says. VOA

Jane Nichols Bishop, founder and president of Peak Season Workforce, a family-run company that helps Cape Cod-area businesses secure H2B visas, says the mechanisms in place to prevent exploitation, including audits by the Department of Labor, have largely worked. But in cases where they do not, she says it’s in everyone’s interest that the infractions are reported.

“If there are abuses, we would like to see them caught,” Nichols said. “They give everyone who does this and who works at this very successfully a very bad name.”

Workers empower themselves

Despite ongoing reports of abuse nationwide, there is some hope for affected foreigners outside of federal regulations, thanks to the internet. A bilingual workers’ rights initiative, which Mauldin calls the Yelp for migrant workers, allows workers to review recruiters and share their experiences, and create a self-empowering community in the process. (VOA)

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Christine Ford Testifies Against Brett Kavanaugh; Decision Pending

If Kavanaugh is confirmed for the Supreme Court, the court will have a clear 5-4 conservative majority, which could be solidified for a generation or longer.

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Brett Kavanaugh
In this combination image of Reuters photos, Christine Blasey Ford, left, and Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

It was a day of drama, tears and tempers in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh angrily denying a charge of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford at a party in 1982 when they were teenagers.

Both got the chance to tell their stories to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a nearly nine-hour-long hearing.

“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”

Hours earlier, Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” it was a drunken Kavanaugh who pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.

Kavanaugh told the senators he attended no such party. He accused Democrats of seeking to avenge Hillary Clinton’s election loss by mounting a calculated attack for political gain and engaging in grotesque character assassination.

Kavanaugh vowed he will not be intimidated into withdrawing.

The Judiciary Committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, plan to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday and, if approved, will send it to the entire Senate, which will begin procedural votes Saturday.

 

Brett Kavanaugh
In this photo combination, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

 

Late Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee announced he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. While, he said, it took courage for Ford to testify, there was no evidence to corroborate her allegations.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he is still weighing his vote after hearing Ford and Kavanaugh testify.

Asked how he will vote, Flake said, “Let me process it.”

 

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, also said she needs time to decide how she will vote. She is running for re-election in a state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, said he is voting no on Kavenaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.

Brett Kavanaugh
In this photo combination, Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Ford’s testimony

Earlier in the day, Ford testified that she feared that Kavanaugh was “going to accidentally kill” her during the alleged incident in 1982.

She said what she remembers most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge’s “uproarious laughter” during the incident and “having fun at my expense.”

Democratic senators repeatedly praised Ford for her courage in coming forward.

A prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, questioned Ford on behalf of Senate Republicans. She asked Ford about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.

Kavanaugh’s testimony

Kavanaugh was much angrier, strident and emotional.

He “unequivocally and categorically” denied the charges and cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has wrecked his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He says they did not include the party.

Kavanaugh said he welcomes whatever the investigation the committee wants, but would not directly answer whether he would approve an FBI probe.

Brett Kavanaugh
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh gives his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Admitting he loves drinking beer, he pointed to what he says was his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Kavanaugh and blamed Democrats for not disclosing the accusations earlier.

“As part of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the FBI conducted its sixth full field background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh since 1993, 25 years ago. Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports … was there a whiff of any issue, any issue at all related to anyway inappropriate sexual behavior.”

But Democrats did not buy Kavanaugh’s self-portrayal of an angelic choir boy. Senator Patrick Leahy pointed to Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page and its jokes about heavy drinking and sex.

Brett Kavanaugh
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., makes a point during a hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee. VOA

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham lost his temper during his time to question Kavanaugh. He accused Democrats of an “unethical sham” and warning Republicans that if they vote not to confirm Kavanaugh, they would legitimize “the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in my time in politics.”

Trump stands by his man

President Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He tweeted that the judge showed Americans exactly why he was chosen.

Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.

No clear winner

Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is unclear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.

Also Read: Video- USA Gears Up For Its Midterm Elections

“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail … and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.”

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the court will have a clear 5-4 conservative majority, which could be solidified for a generation or longer. (VOA)